This past week marks the unofficial end of the “fall season” of Video Game releases. Technically the season isn’t over, there’s still another Zelda game coming out before the end of the year if you care about those kind of games. Now that Left 4 Dead 2 and Assassin’s Creed 2 are available, the next big topic of discussion is the almighty Game of the Year. Just ask twitter and you will get a wide variety of answers. As expected, we are all unique snowflakes and have tastes that do not fall into a particular mold. Following a bunch of lemmings would make for a very bland gaming community. I suppose following lemmings would also be ironic but we can get in to a discussion about conformity some other time. Let us dig a little deeper into this Game of the Year discussion and what makes us all so different.
I’m not going to get in to which game has the best graphics or best story. I might have 1000 words of space every week to talk about video games, but I wont bother to waste anyone’s time on something so subjective. However it’s that subjectivity that intrigues me. In browsing the blog section of Gamasutra I found an entry from Gabriel Lievano titled ” Designing Games Is About Matching Personalities.” As you can imagine, he went on to talk about how personalities factor in to game design and preference. “You can think of games as songs but with a slight but very important difference: music resembles a person’s emotions while games resembles a person’s personality.” It’s an interesting concept, and one that probably requires some initials after your name on a business card to come to any rational and insightful conclusions. That shouldn’t stop me from serving up a few pieces of food for thought though, right?
“This personality idea can give developers a very relevant clue about making games that appeal certain audiences.” So does this mean that the type of gamer that only plays “traditional” Role Playing Games has a different personality from the gamer who lives and breathes Real-Time Strategy games? Are developers sitting in a room thinking about the psychology of their target audience? If they aren’t, should they? I wont go so far as to say that knowing is half the battle, but I think it would be to the advantage of any business to know as much as possible about their target consumer. Knowing what these gamers likes is almost as important as what they dislike. Catering to both sides of that equation is essential to delivering a quality product.
“Games [are] an interactive way of entertaining, this makes it possible to directly associate a player’s objective in life with what the player is looking for a game.” This is approaching deep thought territory, but this should be nothing new to any of you. Gaming is a form of escapism. In my case, I turn on my Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 because I need a break from reality. If I can play a game that will distract me from a miserable day of blood glucose control, them mission accomplished. Each time I turn on my system I have a specific objective I am looking to accomplish and some games are better suited to fill that need than others. And this is where all of this Game of the Year nonsense comes in to play. Whatever game did the best job of matching your emotional and psychological needs at the time of playing probably rates higher than the games that missed.
Maybe that’s why year after year Mario is always a contender for someone’s Game of the Year. The same basic formula is able to fill the same basic need we all have for pleasure and amusement. The quest for high definition particle effects is trumped by the joy of getting that next star. The 25-Kill Streak Reward is out classed by a Freeze Flower Power-up. And with all of this, there is a piece of us that connects with Miyamoto’s vision, with his personality. As hard as we might try to shield that base instinct for gratification, he is able to bring it out of us each and every year. Delivering on something that we may not initially want, but in the end are glad to have.
Call me crazy, but there must be a reason Mario still exists in a form that has seen very little change from game to game. The formula works. Psychologically there must be some part of us that is driven by the connection to what a true Mario game offers.
It feels like I’m in denial about this. I’m afraid to admit that these games are successful beyond the fact that they play on the same formula that has existed since 1985-6 (depending on your region). They are successful because they can connect with us better than Modern Warfare 2 or Left 4 Dead 2. As exciting as the story from Batman: Arkham Asylum or Uncharted 2 might have been, there is still a void. As realistic as Forza 3 can get, something is still missing. Perhaps there’s more to gaming than being a virtual rock star. I might be way off, but I think there’s something about Mario that is able to accomplish what all of these other games can’t.
Or maybe we’re all just a bunch of lemmings after all.
Here’s a link to the blog I referenced, via Gamasutra.
This post is also featured on Talking About Games.